A high-profile priest in Australia has come out in favor of marriage equality amid a heated national debate over the issue, and his comments have been well received by Catholics.
Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, endorsed marriage equality in the lead up to Australia’s non-binding plebiscite that will be conducted by mail this fall. Speaking at a lecture delivered in memory of famed Labor politician Lionel Bowen, himself a Catholic, Brennan told attendees:
“Though a committed Catholic, I could vote ‘yes’ in a survey on same sex marriage while hoping and demanding that the parliament do the hard work on religious freedoms when considering amendments to the Marriage Act. I am one of those Australians who will be pleased when same-sex marriages are recognised by Australian law but with adequate protection for religious freedoms.”
Brennan, who heads Catholic Social Services Australia and is a law professor, offered three observations to critics of his position. First, he noted that civil marriage is a contract that is already inconsistent with Catholic sacramental marriage because it is not permanent and does not need to be open to children.
Second, he said:
“With civil marriage being expanded to include same sex couples as contract partners in countries like UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand, there will be an increasing number of couples civilly married in those countries living in Australia. It will be more and more difficult to deny recognition of those civil marriages here in Australia when the couples are ageing and needing spousal rights and recognition in hospital etc.”
Third, children raised by same-gender couples deserve “a society where there is a public commitment to respect and affirmation of their family arrangements.” Brennan concluded his remarks on marriage equality with these words:
“Those of us who are Catholic have multiple affiliations. We are members of the Catholic Church affirming the sacramentality of marriage as defined by our Church and we are citizens of a pluralistic democratic society under the rule of law affirming the legitimacy of committed relationships which are solemnised at law in the hope of contributing to the well-being of the couple and of their children.”
Brennan has been outspoken on LGBT issues, including his 2015 foresight that any vote on marriage equality like the current plebiscite would be “very nasty” and would “unleash torrents of hate on the gay and lesbian community.” This year, negative campaigning has appeared which denigrates LGBT people. In Melbourne, hate speech quoting the research of a Catholic priest appeared on a poster. The possibility of church worker firings has been raised by at least one bishop [Editor’s note: The church worker firings story was initially reported as a direct threat, but was later clarified to be more general].
In contrast to Brennan’s well-received endorsement of marriage equality, students and alumni at a Catholic school in Melbourne reacted negatively when the local pastor encouraged parents to vote against equality. Fr. Joseph Abatu made his opposition to marriage equality public in the newsletter for St. Peter’s College Cranbourne. Critics reacted strongly on social media against Abatu’s intervention in the school community, reported TenPlay:
“[Alum Nate Bicey said,] In the class of 2004. . .there is at least 7 that have come out LGBTQI. It’s really disappointing to see you dishonour not just past students but today’s and tomorrow’s. . .I just hope for your sake no one in this school becomes a statistic of youth taking there [sic] life for not feeling equal and the school announcing that they are not.”
While the school includes sexuality in its non-discrimination statement, alum Val Bucky Barbosa said there was much bullying when they attended and “the school chose to do nothing.”
Polling shows Australian Catholics’ opinions are very much in line with Fr. Brennan’s “yes” vote, and few Catholics support LGBT-negative church officials like Abatu. Indeed, Queering the Church reported that two-thirds of Catholics were supportive of marriage equality. As usual, such support is because of Catholics’ faith, not in spite of it. Fr. Brennan’s comments during the lecture helpfully enrich the public reasons for why Catholics are so supportive when drawing from our faith tradition’s riches.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 6, 2017